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1 review, 8 user ratings

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Reversal of Fortune
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by MP Bartley

"The voice of truth."
4 stars

There are some actors who are a pleasure to simply listen to, regardless of the quality of the film they're in, because of the way they talk. Orson Welles, Peter Lorre, and James Mason come to mind - and Jeremy Irons is another.

And it's his voice as Claus von Bulow, the millionaire lawyer accused and then jailed for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny (Glenn Close), that elevates a fairly standard true life tale of dubious individuals and a miscarriage of justice into something gripping, engrossing and fascinating.

Claus is awaiting jail time for his conviction of attempted murder on his heiress wife which has left her in a coma, but in one last gamble to clear his name, hires shrewd law professor Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) to assemble a team from his law students and prove that Sunny lapsed into her condition as a result of her chronic diabetes, alcoholism and reliance on medication. Alan agrees, despite the reservation of his students and himself, about Claus' character - the evidence against him seems pretty damning, but Alan is confident they can overturn it regardless.

It doesn't sound like a film that subverts the cliches of the genre that it exists in, and it doesn't. Based on a true story, it probably couldn't, but what saves it from TV movie of the week territory is the magnificent performance at the heart of it all.

Usually the best thing in any film he's in, Irons struts through the film with an arrogant prowl, purring out his lines with this voice that's like a blend of oil and liquid gold. Charming yet creepy at the same time, his voice is key to what we should feel about Claus. Preening with wealth and privileged superiority, Claus rarely seems remotely threatened by the possibility of jail time. Instead, he views it as a challenge, almost amused that someone as mighty as he could be brought down to earth by the trivialities of the justice system.

Loquacious to the extreme, Irons puffs himself up every time he speaks, Claus clearly used to people hanging on his every word, and fond of making speeches when a mere sentence would do. In complete contrast the schlubby and eagle-eyed Alan (Silver's drollness is perfect here) cuts through all that to get to the heart of the matter. There's a moment of great humour where Claus stirs himself to deliver a speech of great importance to his defensive case that Alan cuts through with an impatient, "Claus, please..." The film thrives on the contrast between the monied European aristo and the New York Jew. They couldn't be more polar opposites, yet the case draws them together, and credit Barbet Schroeder's direction for not making that the cliche that it seems, either.

If the film does fall prey to the bad fashions of the '80s at times (Alan wears a truly horrendous cream cardigan at one point -and why do films from the '80s seemingly date worse than any other decade?) it also casts a sharply critical eye on the Yuppy, get-rich-as-fast-as-you-can culture at the time, too. Cutting back in flashbacks to the von Bulow's marriage, it arranges their delicate and materialistic world around them like a house of cards made from crystal. Claus flaunts his lovers in front of Sunny, yet neither seem overly concerned to get out of the marriage as the money and privilege suits both of them. It's a chilly marriage at best, literally so as at one point Irons climbs into the marital bed wearing a woolly jumper and earmuffs.

This vaguely unsettling set-up is where the moral ambiguity lies. How easy is it to believe Claus' explanation of events when he's as morally empty as he clearly is? Does a man who shows little to no remorse towards his wife's condition really deserve a man of Alan's talents on his side in a legal battle? It's these cleverly phrased questions that course through the film, without ever being spelled out obviously, that also helps Reversal of Fortune gain a life that transcends its limited boundaries.

If the bookending sequences of a narration from a comatose Glenn Close are an unconvincing attempt to jazz the material up in a way that seems unnatural and forced, they're mere flaws that are forgotten in the majesty of Irons' performance. It can't be stressed enough just how good he is and it is he that gives the final scene in the film the chilly and creepy power that it has. Just thinking of his smile now gives me goosebumps. Brr....

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originally posted: 11/05/11 08:49:27
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell intriguing raises alot of good questions 4 stars
5/06/07 fools♫gold Rashomon and Primal Fear combined, and better than both. 5 stars
12/25/04 Phil M. Aficionado A bit choppy, but still inventive and intriguing with questions ir raises, Irons is great 4 stars
11/04/03 Kelli excellent, Irons=greatness 5 stars
4/07/03 Jack Sommersby Entertaining, but it's got a tv-movie quality that dissipates its power. Irons is A+! 3 stars
4/22/02 Charles Tatum Jeremy Irons is a god. 5 stars
4/08/02 Jenny Tullwartz Good portrayl by Irons, Silver underapreciated, Close a great actress even playing comatose 5 stars
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  17-Oct-1990 (R)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2001



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